EDITORIAL: Occupy movement evicted

Mayors take action against vagrant protesters

Story Topics

The party is ending for occupy encampments across the country. The crackdowns in New York’s Zuccotti Park and other locations signal that civic leaders have decided the headaches of managing the protests are greater than the costs of simply ending them.

The Occupy movement is falling victim to its internal contradictions. There always was something disjointed about ostensibly leaderless groups with vague demands seeking to set up permanent urban encampments. Immediate problems arose: sanitation, food, health issues, petty crime, drug use, sexual assault, fights and free riders. Reports of Occupy Wall Street (OWS) members objecting to people they called the “professional homeless” showing up to take advantage of the gourmet food donated by sympathetic area restaurants lent a hypocritical tinge to the enterprise claiming to represent the disenfranchised. “Whose brioche? Our brioche!”

The occupier groups have no clear objectives and no endgame, and as such represented a continuous and growing problem for city governments. The encampments disrupted businesses, tourism and the daily lives of those who lived nearby. There is something inherently selfish about occupiers squatting in neighborhoods, being a general nuisance and forcing taxpayers to foot the bill for millions of dollars in extra municipal services. However, seeking to take over prime real estate in lower Manhattan free of rent and property taxes definitely fits in with OWS’ “something for nothing” ethos.

The legal question over whether tent-city protests on public property constitute protected speech was answered decades ago. In the 1984 case Clark v. Community for Creative Non-Violence, the Supreme Court upheld a National Park Service crackdown on a “Reaganville” tent city erected in Washington’s Lafayette Park to protest Reagan administration homeless policies. “We seriously doubt that the First Amendment requires the Park Service to permit a demonstration in Lafayette Park and the Mall involving a 24-hour vigil and the erection of tents to accommodate 150 people,” moderate Justice Byron White wrote for the 7-2 majority. The Court ruled that banning camping was a reasonable regulation protecting the rights of others to enjoy the park while not preventing protesters from communicating their ideas in other ways.

An interesting political question is brewing over whether the crackdowns are coordinated. Oakland Mayor Jean Quan told the BBC she had participated in “a conference call with 18 cities across the country who had the same [occupier] situation,” organized by the United States Conference of Mayors. Portland, Ore., Mayor Sam Adams said calls were set up to enable mayors “to share information about the occupying encampments around the country” but were not operational in nature. Another report said the FBI and Department of Homeland Security were advising mayors on ways to dislodge the encampments.

In October, President Obama romantically linked the occupiers to the civil-rights movement of the 1960s, saying, “I understand the frustrations being expressed in those protests.” He also said, “people who are irresponsible, who are reckless, who don’t feel a sense of obligation to their communities” should not be rewarded. Perhaps he wasn’t talking about the bankers after all.

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